Friday, April 29, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• In Japan, you can buy a hamburger from a vending machine. While that's a bit strange, it's stranger still that the owner sits behind the machine and makes each burger to order.

• Canadians are happy, social butterflies who prefer hanging out with their friends more than socializing online, according to findings from the Coca-Cola Happiness Monitor.

• According to a recent U.S. survey of older workers, they experience some discrimination in the workplace, but also increased respect from bosses and co-workers.

• Non-Caucasian women were excluded from the 1918 Act to confer the Electoral Franchise upon Women, the legislation that gave Canadian women the right to vote in federal elections. In 1940, Quebec was the last province to ratify the Act.

• In 1957, Canadian Nat Taylor invented the cineplex in Ottawa.

• Jackie Robinson was headed toward becoming the first professional black baseball player in the major leagues when, in 1946, he signed with the Montreal Royals of the International League. The Royals were the AAA farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers. The following year, Robinson moved to the Dodgers roster.
How about that?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The lost art of compromise

There's a new book out about a Canadian politician.

Yeah, I know that has to rank right up there with Worthwhile Canadian Initiative for most boring headline of all time, but bear with me.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier
, by André Pratte, is a biography of one of Canada's great prime ministers.

In his book review, Jeffrey Simpson writes, “If Canada still exists today, it is because there have always been Canadians who felt that Laurier was right, that compromise is not surrender or cowardice, but rather daring and courage.”

Oh! Who are they? Will they please make themselves known to us.

Compromise in today's politics is construed as weakness by both supporters and opponents. Supporters refuse to let their guy yield an inch of ground, and opponents interpret any willingness to compromise as a sign that the other guy is weak and vulnerable.

Laurier faced challenges that were, if anything, even more intractable than those we confront today.

English-French divisiveness, Protestant-Catholic conflicts, problems with the economy, free trade with the U.S., regional feuds, immigration fears, disputes over federal vs. provincial jurisdiction, funding of religious schools, conscription for England's wars, foreign interference in Canadian affairs --- all were in the headlines.

Nonetheless, he served in the House of Commons for 45 years, led his party for 32 years, and was prime minister from 1896 to 1911.

He achieved that by being a master of the art of compromise, willing to climb down from positions that were going nowhere (including free trade) in order to advance the principal strategy of building a nation. Of course, the corollary is that his opponents were also, at the end of the day, willing to compromise.

Laurier evolved from politician to statesman, now an endangered species, possibly extinct.

And, oh yeah, he took the streetcar to work.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

An idea whose time has come

People have many misconceptions about the ways their tax dollars are spent, and there's a popular belief that a huge portion of it is wasted.

Why can't government tell us how it is using our money?

That's exactly what was suggested in the U.S. by The Third Way, and now the Obama administration is launching an online calculator to provide taxpayers with that information.

The "receipt" will look something like this:

This strikes me as an excellent way to make government more transparent.

Let's hope this idea emigrates to Canada.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Preview: The Royal Wedding

Monday, April 25, 2011

Spring is in the air

Friday, April 22, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• On January 26, 1700, an earthquake with magnitude 9 hit Canada's west coast. Experts think there's a good chance it will happen again, followed by a tsunami, within the next 50 years. The combination would create "staggering damage" to Vancouver, Victoria, and many smaller communities.

• Viola Desmond, a black woman in Nova Scotia, fought an unjust charge of 1 penny in 1946, helping to galvanize public opinion locally and internationally, and raising awareness about the reality of Canadian segregation.

• The first product Motorola started to develop was a record player for automobiles. At that time, the most known player on the market was Victrola, so they called themselves Motorola.

• Some hotels are now using radio-frequency identification chips (RFIDs) to foil towel thieves.

• In 1973, Mao Zedong told Henry Kissinger that China had an excess of females and offered the United States 10 million Chinese women.

Judgement Day will be this coming May 21. Please get your affairs in order.
How about that?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Charts plot revenge

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Politics in the 21st century

As Canada approaches a federal election, the mud is being slung in great quantities, and at high velocity. Much of it is personal, having nothing to do with the issues or candidates' ability to lead.

Ignatieff's Hungarian-born wife, is targeted because her Canadian citizenship application is still being processed. Harper's hair is considered unstylish, and he is suspected of wearing eyeglasses to project seriousness, Layton's "porn star moustache" has drawn comment.

Why are elections so focused on such trivial considerations, rather than on leadership and issues that will affect our security and quality of life?

Some possibilities:
• Most voters aren't willing to do the homework on candidates' positions, so their decisions can only be based on personality and "gut feel."

• Many self-identify as a Liberal, Conservative, NDP'er, or Green, and always vote that way, even as candidate quality and party platform shifts.

• There is a general perception that, when you get right down to it, there's not much difference between the major parties.

• The news media tend to focus on "the game," turning campaigns into a kind of reality show in which all but one get voted off the island.

• We are bombarded by "attack advertising" that demonizes opponents, thereby increasing our already high level of cynicism about politicians and politics.

• Many voters are anti-elitist, preferring the candidate they'd rather have a beer with --- George Bush rather than John Kerry.

• Politicians don't keep their promises anyway, so why listen to what they say.
What else? Do you have any additions for the list?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mrs. Brown gets a bikini wax

Monday, April 18, 2011

Zombies welcome

Whether accidental or planned, the juxtaposition of this billboard with a funeral parlour has caused a bit of a stir.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Between five and six dozen baseballs are used during each major league baseball game.

• A startup in Green Island, N.Y., is collaborating with the Ford Motor Company to develop a fungus-based, biodegradable foam for automotive bumpers, side doors and dashboards.

• More than 24 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.

• We should eat more dirt.

• Scientists are predicting that we will soon have drugs that can alter people’s moral behavior.

• There was concern in the 1890's that bicycle riding by ladies would ruin the "feminine organs of matrimonial necessity."
How about that?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Changing the charity pitch

I read recently that, on average, it costs nonprofits $20 to raise $100, while it costs companies just $4 to sell $100 worth of product. If that's true, why the difference?

I am no fundraiser, but I do donate to charities, and I'm a bit unhappy that 20 cents of every dollar I give is then spent to attract a donation from somebody else.

It's a conundrum, though, because charities can't spend less without having their revenue stream decline. So, donors and charities are caught in a cycle that seems hard to break, even though it siphons off money that could be spent on programs and investing in infrastructure that would make them more efficient.

Here's the thing. Commercial advertising appeals directly to the self-interest of prospective customers, telling them how they'll benefit from the product or service.

Most fundraising messages talk about indirect benefits. Your own life won't be better, but someone else's will. That's a much tougher sell that appeals to altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

What would happen if charities talked more about the direct benefits to donors, how their donations will impact their own lives by helping someone else?

It's clear that people want to live in safe communities with low crime rates, healthy kids, full employment, good hospitals, recreational options, flourishing arts and culture, and so on.

Charities deliver that.

By getting kids playing ball or playing guitars, they're getting them off the streets and out of the malls where trouble starts in young lives. You benefit from less crime, reduced policing, and a sense of feeling safe.

By providing a rich recreational and cultural life, they're creating the kind of community that attracts high quality, educated workers, and therefore the kind of companies that compete in the new economy. You benefit by having access to high paying jobs for yourself, your children and your grand children.

By funding state of the art equipment for your local hospital, they're ensuring it will be there for you when you or a family member needs it.

I think many charities could create a compelling message around similar direct benefits. It's a mindshift, because charities aren't used to talking this way, but they're competing for dollars with the entire marketplace.

Altruistic donors will continue to give. But some people aren't charitable, so the indirect approach doesn't work with them.

They won't open their wallets unless they get something back.

Let's spell it out for them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hot ride in Chile

The Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race is a legendary urban bike race, and is one of the wildest rides you'll ever take. I suggest you wear a helmet just to watch the video.

Video from Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flunking retirement

As Garrison Keilor said recently, "When I was younger, I was all in favor of it, and now that I'm at that age, I'm not sure."

Garrison and I are both 68. He has announced that he will retire from his radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion," in two years.

We'll see. After all, he retired in 1987, then came back in 1989. Some people seem more able to adapt to retirement than others.

I have some experience with retiring. I first retired in 1989, but it didn't take. After a couple of years of working on my golf game, I was itchy to get back in the real game.

Retirement had seemed attractive to me after a life of skipped vacations, 11-hour days, and head-down slugging to build businesses. I craved relief from the steady grind of keeping customers, employees and bankers happy.

Then, when all that wasn't there, I missed it.

Idling along just didn't feel right. My sense of self-worth suffered. When I got together with my buddies, they were all talking about their businesses --- problems, opportunities, triumphs. I had nothing to talk about.

Plus I missed the people part of it. Business is a very social activity.

So I started another enterprise, and I was happy again.

Now, 15 years later, with a reduced work schedule and a good succession plan in place, I am asking myself the retirement question again.

That eighth decade of life looms just over the horizon.

Problem is, so much about retirement seems negative. The thesaurus provides synonyms: reclusiveness, remoteness, solitude, withdrawal.

We need a better word.

I'm betting both Garrison and I keep going for a while yet.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Here's to the crazy ones

Once in a very long while, an ad transcends the job of selling something, and actually touches on a fundamental truth.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Canadians pay about a third more for gasoline than U.S. consumers. Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, the UK, and the Netherlands have some of the world's highest gasoline prices, with drivers paying the equivalent of $2.00 per liter or more.

• They're still working the bugs out of this electric car thing. In Coventry, England, a city that is promoting the use of electric vehicles, an electric car received a parking ticket while plugged into a charging station.

• The EU plans to ban cars from London and all other cities across Europe by 2050 to cut CO2 emissions.

Happiness peaks at the age of 85, according to a study by University College London.

Adult day care will take care of your aging parent while you go off to work.

• The word "uterus" has been banned from the Florida House of Representatives as inappropriate language for the ears of visitors and guests in the gallery.
How about that?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The skin gun

This amazing video shows a new technique for healing serious burns within days, rather than weeks or months.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How authentic are you?

I came across a discussion recently concerning the authenticity of Oprah Winfrey. The writer thought she was 95% authentic, based on her honesty and so on. Someone else rated her at 75% authentic.

This is an assessment I think we all make with regard to other people, but less frequently with regard to ourselves.

I played golf with a guy last weekend who seemed to be trying to affect a high living, raconteur persona. He was constantly telling wry stories that starred himself as the central character, and usually involved being drunk somewhere and doing something outrageous. Some of the stories were quite amusing, but eventually it all became a bit tedious, not to mention interfering with my own tales of adventure. Authenticity score, 50%.

What is authenticity, anyway?

One definition is the degree to which one is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character, despite the pressures of external forces and influences.

That sounds right to me.

I have observed that most people will suppress or exaggerate certain aspects of their personality in order to conform to the norms of the milieu in which they find themselves. This probably has something to do with our desire for acceptance by peers.

By doing so, have we become inauthentic? Maybe so. I suspect that the truly authentic types are themselves in all situations, and damn the consequences. You have to admire that.

Perhaps my golfing acquaintance was just refusing to accept the norms of golf course conversation, which mostly centres on offering insincere compliments for good shots and hollow commiserations when the ball goes astray.

Up that guy's authenticity score to 75%.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Privates on parade

Canadian dicks are right up there, so to speak.

The following map shows average penis size by country. As you can see, our Canadian gents compare favourably to the Yanks and the Russkis, and completely blow away the Japanese, Chinese and Indians.

But, there are those chaps in Sudan who rose to unimaginable heights.

Nutty, eh?

All in all, a praiseworthy showing. Well done, lads.

[From MediaDump]

Monday, April 4, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The Canada-U.S. two-way trade relationship is the largest in the world, exceeding $600 billion dollars per year, or more than $1 million every minute of every day.

• For every dollar's worth of U.S. exports to China, three dollars worth are exported to Canada.

• Canada buys more from the U.S. than all 27 European Union countries combined.

• It is estimated that over eight million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada.

• The U.S. gets more of its oil from Canada than from any other country, importing 707,316,000 barrels of oil per year, worth more than $37 billion. [Global Post]

• Canada supplies one third of U.S uranium imports, and 92% of its natural gas imports.
How about that?

[Unless otherwise indicated, information sourced from a presentation by
Guy Saint-Jacques, Deputy Head of Mission at the Canadian Embassy
at the 2010 Women in Business National Conference and Business Fair, Baltimore MD, June 24, 2010.]

Opening day 2011

Go Jays!

Good pitching will beat good hitting any time, and vice versa. - Bob Veale, 1966